Review: Children of Morta: Familiar ARPG and Rogue-Lite Elements Meet Unique Familial Mechanics
Action role-playing games (ARPGs) were something I spent a lot of time playing. So much so, I got kind of sick of them. That’s why, when a special ARPG comes along, it’s pretty exciting. Children of Morta is exciting. Though it’s not a pure ARPG—it has rogue-lite elements—Children of Morta ticks all of the boxes for action, and RPGs.
In Children of Morta you play as a member of the Bergson family. They’re a family of fighters, guardians pledged to protect the land and fight the corruption that is threatening to overtake it. Normally in a game like this, that’s where the complexity of the story ends—but the story here is much more than just a vehicle for the action. Developer Dead Mage promised a meaningful story that revolved a family’s struggles, and losses—and they mostly deliver. The story is told by a narrator, and the entire thing has a very storybook feel to it.
The gameplay is what you would expect from an ARPG—but a very good ARPG. It’s tight, fluid, and fun. You start off playing as the Bergson father, who is soon joined by his daughter Linda, but eventually you’ll have six family members to choose from. Each family member has their own weapons and attacks, with each feeling pretty different than the others. Unlike most ARPGs, there isn’t really loot. There is gold and gems to collect, and various power-ups that can be acquired, but all except gold are reset each run. This is where the rogue-lite comes in. Unlike a pure roguelike, when you fail a run, you retain all of the XP and gold you’ve gathered, and you start back at the Bergson home—the base of operations for this fighting family.
What makes Children of Morta unique, is that unlike most roguelikes and rogue-lites that punish failure in a more permanent fashion, you’re always moving forward in Children of Morta. Even failing can bring a cutscene that moves the story forward. If you don’t like roguelikes because of their lack of continuity, or tiny amounts of progress, Children of Morta makes you feel like you’re always gaining, even if you’re failing.
The Bergsons don’t fight alone, and one family member can’t shoulder the entire burden. If you favor one member too much, they will eventually get a debuff called ‘corruption’ that will lower their max HP. This might sound annoying, but it’s an interesting way to encourage you to try out the other family members. Levelling up other family members also bestows bonuses to the entire family. I found myself playing through characters I probably wouldn’t have spent too much time with, just so I could get the bonuses that come with levelling them up—like higher critical hit chance, damage, and even the chance for family members to show up and help out when you need them.
Between runs there is often a cutscene, or some other narrative device that tells you more about the Bergsons, their roles as guardians, or any number of scenes and vignettes that are sometimes poignant. At the Bergson’s house you can also buy upgrades that bestow extra health, damage, etc. to the entire family.
Another issue I sometimes have with roguelikes and –lites are the length of the runs. In Children of Morta, each run ends at death, or when you complete an area and defeat its boss. You aren’t forced to play from the beginning each time you start a run—instead, once you unlock a new area, you can start there. Each run also ends up being a bite-sized morsel—around 15-30 minutes per run—making it a great game that you can pick up and put down again. This also makes it great for co-op play.
You can play co-op locally, sharing the same screen, each player with their own Bergson family member. Since you’re sharing a screen—and Bergsons wouldn’t abandon each other—you are tethered to the same view. This is true even when a family member goes down. You have the option to help them back up again, but you can’t leave them. This sometimes limits you to extremely tight situations.
Each run in Children of Morta is unique. Not only with the items you will find, and the way the level layouts change, but also in the things you can run into. There are many events scattered throughout—some of them lead to powerful items, others grant you companions that will even follow you home in some rare cases.
Each of the four areas in Children of Morta have their own enemy types with their own behaviors. Each area also has new hazards to avoid, and events to run into. Boss battles are great, with each encounter feeling unique and challenging.
Children of Morta is pixel art done exceptionally. The animations are great, and smooth, making the whole experience fluid. Each family member is unique, with great care taken to even the smallest detail. Strangely, there seems to be inconsistencies with the character models—espcecially with the hammer wielding Joey, who would sometimes look different in the family house as opposed to when he’s out fighting.
Children of Morta feels great to play with a mouse and keyboard or a controller. I actually spent most of my time playing on a controller, though both control schemes are great. If you’ve ever had a chance to play the console version of Diablo 3, Children of Morta feels extremely similar—especially with the ability to evade, which works much like console Diablo 3’s dodge. Unlike Diablo 3, this mechanic is hard-baked in, and something you can do with keyboard and mouse, too. Usually these types of games lend themselves better to one control scheme or another, but Children of Morta feels natural both ways.
The only complaint I have about Children of Morta is the lack of replayability. Once you finish the game, you can continue to play most of the levels, but there isn’t a new game plus, endless mode, or really any incentive to keep going. I hope this is something that’s addressed in a future patch.
Children of Morta really feels like it’s something great. It features fast, tight ARPG action with a narrative that serves as more than just a vehicle, and manages to pull you into the plight of the Bergson family. It’s as lite on the roguelike elements as it can be, but still has enough to qualify—and enough to make each run unique. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have endless replayability. But what is there is gorgeous, and fun. I definitely recommend this.
Children of Morta is available September 3rd on PC
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